More than once an hour, someone is fatally injured in an accident involving an impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite state laws and enforcement efforts, intoxicated drivers pose a serious threat to innocent drivers in Illinois, where Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that 279 lives were lost in alcohol-related accidents in 2011.
Research indicates that even drivers who are below the legal blood-alcohol content limit may be dangerously impaired. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation for all states to lower the legal BAC limit to .05. Government research suggests this measure could save between 500 and 800 lives every year.
Impairment at legal levels
According to the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver performance is affected even at BAC levels below the legal limit. At a level of .05, drivers struggle with steering, perceiving depth, tracking motion and reacting to emergencies. These drivers are 39 percent more likely to be involved in accidents. A recent University of California, San Diego study found that even minimal BAC levels affect driving ability. Drivers with a BAC of .01 who were involved in accidents were 46 percent more likely to be solely blamed in official accident investigation reports.
Research supports a lower limit, but the NTSB does not have legal authority to change laws. Each state makes its own laws, and the federal government can give states incentive to change them. When the NTSB last recommended that the legal limit be lowered, almost two decades passed before every state complied. If Illinois does not change the legal limit, many Chicago drivers may continue drinking and driving legally but unsafely, putting other drivers at risk.
Recourse for accident victims
In Illinois, a person who is injured in an accident involving a drunk driver may hold that driver liable. Victims may seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. The surviving family members of a fatally injured accident victim may seek damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. Under state Dram Shop laws, a third party who provided the alcohol or a place to drink may also be held liable for an accident.
In Illinois, an intoxicated driver is not automatically at fault in an accident. Illinois considers contributory fault and takes the actions of each driver into account. Victims are only awarded damages if they are less than 50 percent at fault, and compensation awarded may be reduced based on the amount of fault attributed to the victim. This means that, for the injured party, it is critical that accident circumstances are documented carefully, even if the accident involves an intoxicated driver.